Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Whatever happened to free will? Do we really have the power to control our own destiny or are our lives all part of some master plan? It’s a question which mankind has debated for thousands of years and one which Matt Damon asks in The Adjustment Bureau, the debut feature from George Nolfi who adapted the screenplay from a short story by sci- fi master, Philip K. Dick. Nolfi has worked with Damon before having written the scripts for The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Twelve. They obviously work well together as The Adjustment Bureau proves to be an example of seemingly effortless storytelling driven by Damon’s utterly believable performance as Congressman, David Norris- a young and driven politician on the campaign trail for a place in the U.S. Senate- who find himself up against the titular Bureau who are tasked with making sure humanity doesn’t veer from a pre- planned route designed by the mysterious ‘Chairman.’

The Adjustment Bureau it turns out are an omnipresent organisation who have been guiding the human race as best they can throughout history and nudge people in the desired direction if they deviate from the path decided for them in the endless matrix of possibility. They decide David needs a nudge after he meets contemporary dancer, Elise Sellas, played by an absolutely delightful Emily Blunt, a chance event which threatens to throw both of their futures into jeopardy if they stay together. David and Elise must stay ahead of the Bureau agents assigned to stop them as they struggle to stay together in and under modern day New York.

The premise is relatively common. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall for each other. External forces strive to keep them apart. A variation of Romeo and Juliet for the iPad generation but Nolfi’s script and direction are fresh and smart, leaving nothing to exposition- something that must have been inspired by working on Bourne where the pace never gave room for long periods where characters might tell eachother what we already know. In fact, where most scripts would have Damon explaining why he was being chased by ageless agents who teleport via a combination of hats and the doorway to your office cupboard, Nolfi employs a clever mechanic and has us seeing the effect of David doing just that from the perspective of the agents via a handy book which charts, in realtime, the intended paths of the subjects involved. The film is full of such convention avoidance and whips along at a thrilling pace. There are no guns, no big cgi battles in the sky, no cheesy one liners and no particular aim at being ‘cool’ but then defying what is expected is what this film is all about. Even the Adjustment Bureau ‘baddies’ are just frustrated middle men with pay grades and pressure from their bosses and this leads to some of the many genuine laughs in the film. Who would have thought an audience could relate to someone we actually don’t want to succeed! There are obvious conotations pertaining to issues of religion, the government and the “illusion of free will” but Nolfi refuses to take sides and he does well by it, instead using the ultimate goal of creating a life without a definite future as the Macguffin around which to build an exciting, twisty, contemporary sci-fi thriller.

There are knowing winks to other science fiction works and it would be easy to compare this film to The Matrix or Metropolis. Both films also deal with humanity attemping to regain control of it’s future with a free thinking individual leading the way. Even the headquarters of The Adjustment Bureau is reminiscent of the architecture in Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. If you look closely,  might be able to spot a clever reference in a newspaper headline to Quantum Leap – the show starring Scott Bakula which also dealt with reshaping the future. Director of Photography, John Toll, who achieved stunning work on films such as The Thin Red Line and The Last Samurai here creates modern New York with overtones of classic 50’s sci-fi and matches Nolfi’s fresh- factor giving us a New York that is rarely seen in film today. Thomas Newman ups the excitement with a typical piano tinged score that binds the whizz bang and the romance perfectly.

The only potential pitfall for the film for some would be the absurdity of the teleportation and how quickly David and Elise seem to accept it. It’s a minor flaw though and Nolfi realises the best thing for the audience is to go with it. After all, how much more absurd is the idea behind this film than talking Guinea Pigs?

Really though, this is Damon and Blunt’s show. The chemistry between the forward thinking Brooklyn born politician and the lively performer is romantic, witty and very easy. From the moment they meet we feel a connection and instantly want them to remain together. Damon’s David Norris is the type of Congressman who prefers using public transport to chauffer driven Mercedes Benz and is more comfortable speaking to hip political satirist, Jon Stewart than CNN. He is a man of the people which fits Damon to a tee after pretty much mastering the role of enigmatic everyman. Emily Blunt as Elise is every impulse and romantic notion that David has dreamed of meeting and their playful banter is a joy to watch. The supporting cast too; Michael Kelly (Changling) as David’s lifelong friend and campaign manager, Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) as a sympathetic Bureau agent assigned to David’s case, John Slattery (Iron Man 2) as  Richardson, the case supervisor and Terence Stamp (Valkyrie) as agent Thompson who is bought in when things go awry all bounce off of one another perfectly and help create a believable extended world in which our protagonists can exist. There are no emotionless sunglass wearing machines in this story. Every character is given their own personality and motivations and the cast plays it out with steadfast conviction.

The Adjustment Bureau is the film that you probably didn’t expect it to be but after seeing it you wouldn’t want it to be any different. Rarely do thrills and brains go hand in hand so effortlessly. It is the perfect appetiser for the coming summer months which promise overblown action, ridiculous budgets and inevitable disappointments whilst being a brilliant example of simplicity, quality and commitment to characters that one could only wish was more common. George Nolfi is an exciting new director and must be congratulated. Go see it!

 See Below For An Clip From The Movie!

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